After Harvard instituted a policy that barred students in single-gender social clubs from holding leadership positions and opportunities for prestigious fellowships and scholarships, several sororities and fraternities are suing the school, saying the policy is sex discrimination under Title IX and the U.S. Constitution.
The suits, which were filed in U.S. federal and state court, say the policy — which was enacted in 2016 in response to a report which found sexual harassment, assault, and "deeply misogynistic attitudes" within all-male final clubs at Harvard — is hurting women led organizations rather than really addressing the problem of sexual discrimination on campus.
“Harvard has eliminated the range of opportunities available to female students — and with it, spaces that were empowering for women,” Emma Quinn-Judge of Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Massachusetts case, said in a press release to Refinery29. “Harvard’s sanctions policy discriminates on the basis of sex and punishes students because they associate with people of their own sex.”
International sorority Alpha Phi, it's local Cambridge chapter, and a housing management company that represents the Delta Gamma Fraternity, sued Harvard in Massachusetts state court. Earlier this year, Delta Gamma's Zeta Phi chapter at the school chose to disband rather than become coed to adhere to Harvard's policy.
Three anonymous Harvard students, sororities Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma, along with fraternities Sigma Chi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon sued the school in U.S. federal court.
“It is baffling that Harvard boasts that its students are among the brightest minds in the world, yetadministrators won’t trust them to make decisions about how they choose to associate with one another,” said Judson Horras, the President and CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference. “Harvard ignores the proven value of single-sex experiences, despite the fact that Drew Faust, the Harvard President who put the sanctions into place, benefitted from attending an all-women’s academy and college, and current President Lawrence Bacow has publicly praised the value of his own fraternity experience.”
In August, Chloe Safier, a gender specialist who received a master's degree from Harvard, told Refinery29 that the school's policy would not adequately address sexual harassment and discrimination on campus; rather, the school was missing an opportunity to allow these organizations to be agents of change.
"Banning sororities and fraternities is by no means adequate as a sole response to the deeply entrenched problem of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses," she said. "If Greek organizations became a place where people could examine and unlearn toxic and restrictive gender boundaries, in an environment that allowed for safe and respectful self-expression, it could offer its members a chance to positively transform their views on gender at a critical moment in their social development."
Refinery29 has reached out to Harvard for comment and will update this story when we hear back.